This article is part of PAR’s Mental Health Awareness Month series, in which we will be focusing on the multifaceted issue of mental health in the U.S. Come back each week for more insight. 

Our mental health often takes a backseat in the world of constant hustle, daily pressures, and to-do lists. But what if the key to a brighter mood and a more resilient mental state lies in the very act of movement? New research finds that physical activity, in any form, is directly linked to better mental health. 

From the growth of new brain cells to exercise's benefits on sleep, this article takes a deep dive into this topic and reveals: 

  • The latest research on the connection between physical activity and brain health 
  • Mental health benefits of exercise 
  • The protective factors of exercise on mental resilience 
  • Easy ways to start a fitness routine that will last 

The Mind–Body Connection 

As we dive into the relationship between exercise and mental health or the “mind–body” connection, understanding how exercise helps release chemicals that positively influence brain function is essential. Below, we highlight three key actions that take place during physical activity. 

Neurotransmitter Release 

During exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters, including: 

  • Endorphins 
  • Dopamine 
  • Norepinephrine 
  • Serotonin 

This chemical release is not just good for your body; it also benefits your mental well-being. Why? These neurotransmitters elevate mood and reduce stress. One review revealed that the positive effects of physical exercise on dopamine levels could result in using exercise as an intervention for treating mental illness. 

BDNF: "Miracle-Gro" for the Brain 

Not only does exercise kickstart neurotransmitter release, but it also amplifies neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt and change. Exercise heightens neuroplasticity by boosting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) release. BDNF supports neuron growth and development, or as Dr. John Ratey, Harvard neuropsychiatrist, states in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, "BDNF is Miracle-Gro for the brain." 

What does this mean? The more brain cells you activate during exercise, the more BDNF you have—it's like brain fertilizer. This increase in neuroplasticity leads to improved cognitive function. 

Oxygen Boost 

Exercise also boosts the oxygen supply to the brain, promoting better cognitive function. When you engage in physical activities, your heart pumps faster, leading to blood vessel growth. This increase in oxygen supply has a profound effect on mental health. 

Why? A well-oxygenated brain is a healthy brain. Boosting oxygen levels through exercise helps improve executive function, including flexible thinking and self-control. This action allows the brain to become more resilient against issues like depression and anxiety. 

The Protective Benefits of Physical Activity 

According to the John W. Brick Foundation and their review of more than 1,000 studies on the link between exercise and mental wellness, 89% found a significant positive association between physical activity and mental health

So, what do these benefits look like, and how do they protect mental well-being? We break them down below. 

Relieves Stress 

Stress is a toxic, silent killer. Chronic stress in the body leads to high cortisol levels and other stress hormones that disrupt almost all the body's systems. This upheaval can lead to obesity, heart disease, and other health disorders. Unfortunately, it can also usher in mental health issues such as depression. Regular physical activity is effective because it reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. This activity reboots the body's stress response, reducing the reactivity to psychological stressors—leading to better cognitive balance and calm. 

The latest research also reveals that people with stress-related conditions such as depression experience the most cardiovascular benefits from exercise. The study also found that physical activity enhances prefrontal cortex function, which helps regulate stress responses in the brain. 

Enhances Mood 

Exercise is also a powerful mood enhancer. It activates the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins and endocannabinoids, also known as “feel-good” chemicals. These little mood boosters can ease depression and anxiety symptoms, potentially preventing these conditions from recurring. 

Improves Sleep 

Regular exercise can significantly improve sleep quality. But first, why is good sleep crucial to positive mental health? Studies show that sleep deficits can change activity in some parts of the brain. When this happens, it can lead to a person having trouble solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and managing change. 

Sleep deficiency is also linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior. Research reveals that physical activity can counteract these issues because it contributes to better sleep efficiency, longer sleep duration, and quicker sleep onset. One study explains why

  • Physical activity releases endorphins, lowering stress and spurring better sleep. 
  • Exercise regulates circadian rhythms, and a rise in body temperature followed by a decrease helps to activate sleep. 
  • Physical activity stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, which are involved in relaxation, assisting in better sleep onset. 


Now that we know how exercise can protect mental health, it's time to spotlight its role as preventive medicine. 

Exercise as Preventive Medicine 

Engaging in regular physical activity lowers the risks of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Here is some notable research supporting these benefits: 

  • One study found physical activity is 1.5 times more effective at reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety than medication or cognitive behavior therapy. 
  • Research reveals that individuals with general anxiety disorder and PTSD had a noticeable reduction of anxiety symptoms with regular exercise. 
  • One study discovered that exercise of any intensity protects against future depression. 


Another way physical activity can lower the risk of mental health issues is by reducing inflammation. Immediately after exercising, the muscles release myokines, hormones produced by muscle tissue, which clean up inflammation. Through consistent exercise, the body becomes less and less inflamed. This is important because inflammation impacts mood by altering the production of serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). When this malfunction happens, it can be challenging to shut off the stress response. 

Creating an Effective Exercise Routine for Better Mental Health 

Understanding exercise's protective factors on mental health is only half the battle. The real challenge lies in building a routine that boosts physical fitness and promotes better mental health. 

Here are four easy guidelines to get started: 

  1. Start simple and work your way up. Even short bouts of exercise matter.
  2. Try different types of exercise until you find one that makes you happy.
  3. Focus on results like improved mood and energy level as motivation. 
  4. Maintain consistency. 

It's clear that exercise isn't just a powerhouse for physical health; it also protects against potential mental health problems. Whether a seasoned athlete or someone just starting out, remember that each step and stretch contributes to a stronger body and a more resilient mind. 

So, get out there and get moving!




This article is part of PAR’s Mental Health Awareness Month series, in which we will be focusing on the multifaceted issue of mental health in the U.S. Come back each week for more insight. 

Before the pandemic, reports indicated a concerning increase in mental health issues among American youth, including rising feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. There was already an approximate 40% surge in these factors before the COVID-19 pandemic introduced additional stressors such as social isolation, disruptions in daily routines, and economic strain due to caregiver job losses. These stressors led to a significant increase in mental health emergencies, with a 24% increase in emergency department visits for mental health issues among children aged 5–11 and a 31% increase among those aged 12–17. Suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12–17 also rose by 51% in 2021 compared to 2019. 

The issue of chronic absenteeism, where students miss 10% or more of instructional days per year, has only added to the existing problems. Before the pandemic, in the academic year 2021–2022, more than 66% of students attended schools where 20% or more of the student population was chronically absent. In 2023, 26% of students continued to be chronically absent. Mental health concerns are one of the reasons many cite for this increase in chronic absenteeism.

State Efforts 

Several states have responded to students’ mental health challenges by enacting laws allowing for mental health days. Minnesota took the lead in 2009 by passing a bill that recognized excused absences for mental health conditions requiring treatment. This effort has since expanded to states like Oregon, where legislation allows students to take mental health days without fear of penalties. 

The specifics of these policies vary among the 12 states that have implemented laws allowing mental health days, but some states have similar laws. Washington, Maine, and Virginia permit students to cite mental or behavioral health issues as valid excuses for school absences. 

California's Senate Bills 14 and 224 allow for mental or behavioral health days and incorporate mental health content into the health education curriculum. In Illinois, schools are mandated to grant students up to 5 mental health days annually and treat them as excused absences. Colorado passed a bill requiring school districts to establish policies for excused absences related to behavioral health concerns. 

Oregon allows students to take up to 5 days off within a three-month period, including mental health days. Connecticut allows for 2 mental health wellness days yearly, provided they are not consecutive. Arizona treats mental health days similarly to sick days, with policies varying across school districts. Nevada introduced Senate Bill 249, enabling students age 7–18 years to miss school for mental health reasons with a note from a mental or behavioral health professional. Utah acknowledges mental or behavioral health as a valid reason for an excused absence for all students. Meanwhile, Kentucky signed House Bill 44, permitting students to take days off from school for mental health reasons as excused absences. 

These varied approaches reflect states' diverse strategies to support students' mental health needs. However, despite the progress made by some states, many still lack specific laws regarding mental health days.

Impact of Mental Health on Learning 

Mental health can significantly influence academic performance, and stress and emotions are critical factors in the learning process. When properly managed, stress can improve memory and learning. However, when stress levels become excessive, they can disrupt concentration and memory retention, ultimately hindering academic achievement. Similarly, emotions like happiness or anxiety can affect learning. Although positive emotions can help, negative emotions can make focusing more difficult. 

The following are some of the critical ways that mental health issues affect students

  • Difficulty in concentration and attention: Young people coping with mental health concerns may struggle to maintain focus during learning tasks, leading to trouble controlling attention and completing assignments. 
  • Reduced cognitive functioning: Mental illness can interfere with thought processes required for classroom learning, such as problem-solving, recalling academic information, and persevering during challenging tasks. 
  • Academic underachievement: Untreated or undertreated mental health concerns can lead to reductions in standardized test scores, lower grades, and course credit deficiencies over time, ultimately affecting academic achievement. 
  • School absences and avoidance: Mental health issues may cause frequent absences from school due to illness or avoidance of school settings, which can disrupt the learning process and lead to academic setbacks. 
  • Behavioral challenges: The behavior of young people experiencing mental health concerns may interfere with learning and disrupt classroom environments, making it difficult for them to create and maintain friendships. 
  • Barriers to school completion: If mental health concerns are not addressed properly, they can make it difficult for students to finish school. This can lead to higher chances of suspension, expulsion, and failure to obtain enough credits, ultimately influencing their ability to graduate. 
  • Social and emotional skills: Mental health concerns can impair the development of social skills and executive functioning necessary for navigating school environments and transitioning to post-secondary education.

Benefits of Mental Health Days 

Advocates say that encouraging students to take mental health days can effectively address absenteeism and promote their mental health and overall well-being. And by making these excused absences, this can help parse which students are having mental health concerns from those who are actually truant. According to advocacy group Attendance Works, this can help create a more productive relationship between the school and the family by understanding the root cause of the absence, leading to better outcomes. 

The following is a summary of other benefits: 

  • Reduce mental health stigma: By implementing mental health days, schools can create an environment that acknowledges the significance of youth mental health and reduces the stigma surrounding mental health issues, fostering open discussions about these critical topics and ensuring students feel supported in taking time off for their mental wellbeing. 
  • Early intervention and support: Creating a separate category for excused absences related to mental health issues is important in signaling to school officials that a student may face challenges. This recognition is a crucial first step in facilitating early intervention and allowing educators to provide students with the necessary resources and support customized to their needs. With this categorization, students are more likely to receive the attention and care they need to thrive academically and emotionally.
  • Promotion of rest and autonomy: Offering mental health days is crucial for prioritizing student wellbeing and teaching valuable lessons in self-care. By fostering autonomy and resilience, schools can support students' overall health and success. 

In conclusion, although some states have recognized the importance of mental health days for students, there are still many disparities in legislation and implementation. No matter where you live, advocating for comprehensive mental health policies at the state level is critical to promoting a nationwide culture of prioritizing mental wellbeing in schools.




This is part of PAR’s Mental Health Awareness Month series, in which we will be focusing on the multifaceted issue of mental health in the U.S. Come back each week for more insight. 

The last few years have seen a global pandemic, international conflicts, civil unrest, increased inflation, and many natural disasters. The American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America survey takes a closer look at what Americans have been experiencing and provides insight into recent trends. This data provides better understanding of how Americans are handling a multitude of stressors and helps to show us what is going on in the minds of Americans of different ages. 

Collective trauma and post-pandemic effects 

The survey starts with the idea of collective trauma, understanding that everyone has been deeply affected by difficult events collectively. Even though COVID-19 may not be a national emergency anymore, it has left mental and emotional effects on most Americans. 

Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, Chief Executive Officer of the APA, points out that although many people seem to be moving on from the pandemic, we are still dealing with the lasting effects of these challenging times. The collective trauma of the pandemic continues to have an impact on individuals in significant ways. 

Long-term stress and health implications 

The survey looks at how long-term stress has affected the bodies and minds of Americans. In addition to the impact of stress on mental health, ongoing stress has also led to various physical health problems. These physical health problems include inflammation, weakened immune systems, digestive issues, heart disease, weight gain, and even stroke. 

Dealing with long-term stress requires different approaches and comprehensive strategies to stay healthy. 

Increase in chronic illnesses and mental health diagnoses 

One of the striking findings of this survey is the significant increase in chronic illnesses and mental health issues, especially among adults age 35 to 44 years. 

The numbers show that chronic illnesses increased from 48% in 2019 to 58% in 2023 in this age group. At the same time, mental health diagnoses rose from 31% to 45%. 

Moreover, although many people rated their physical health as good (81%), two-thirds still cite chronic illnesses like high blood pressure (28%), high cholesterol (24%), or arthritis (17%). Similarly, while 81% said their mental health is good, over a third have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, mainly anxiety (24%) or depression (23%). 

Challenges in stress management 

Although people know stress is a problem, many find it hard to handle. They may think their problems aren't big enough to be concerned about or they may not have time or resources to devote to combatting this concern. 

According to survey data, about three out of every five adults don't talk about their stress because they don't want to bother anyone else—meaning most people who are struggling with stress are not sharing this concern. 

Stress levels and sources 

The survey gives a clear view of how stressed people are and what's causing this stress. The most common causes of stress were found to be worries about the country's future, violence, crime, money problems, and health issues. 

Age-based and lifestyle stress variations 

Different age cohorts experience stress differently. Adults age 35 to 44 and 45 to 64 are more likely to be stressed about financial and economic issues, whereas those age 65 years and older cite being concerned about health-related problems. Parents, single-adult households, and retirees experience stressors related to family responsibilities, finances, and personal safety, showcasing the diverse stress landscape across life stages. 

According to the survey, the following are the top stressors based on age group: 

Age 18–25 years 

  • Financial concerns: 66% 
  • Work: 64% Relationships: 58% 
  • Education: 54% 
  • Health concerns: 51% 
  • Discrimination: 29% 

Age 26–39 years 

  • Financial concerns: 69% 
  • Work: 66% 
  • Relationships: 61% 
  • Health concerns: 60% 
  • Discrimination: 28% 
  • Current events: 28% 

Age 40–55 years 

  • Work: 73% 
  • Financial concerns: 70% 
  • Relationships: 63% 
  • Health concerns: 61% 
  • Discrimination: 27% 
  • Current events: 27% 

Age 56 and older 

  • Health concerns: 75% 
  • Financial concerns: 68% 
  • Work: 60% 
  • Relationships: 52% 
  • Current events: 28% 
  • Discrimination: 23% 

Gender disparities in stress 

This year's data reveals that women report higher stress levels than men. On a scale of 1 to 10, women report an average of 5.3 compared to 4.8 for men. Nearly a third of women ranked their current stress level as an 8 out of 10, compared to 21% of men. Furthermore, 68% of women stated they needed more emotional support in the past year to deal with stress about money problems, family responsibilities, relationships, and discrimination. 

Discrimination and personal safety are significant stressors 

Discrimination is a growing concern for adults. Nearly two in five of the individuals surveyed cite personal safety as a major cause of stress. More than a quarter mention discrimination as a significant stressor. 

LGBTQIA+ adults face even higher levels of discrimination-related stress, with more than half saying they do not feel comfortable sharing their experiences out of fear and 43% saying they do not feel acceptance in their community. 

Adults with a disability cite discrimination as a significant factor (34%) in their stress and 40% of these individuals feel a lack of acceptance in their community. 

Furthermore, Black and Latino/a/e adults surveyed were more likely than Asian and White adults to mention discrimination as a significant stressor (43% and 40% vs. 31% and 19%) and were more likely to report experiencing everyday acts of discrimination. 

Importance of social support and coping mechanisms 

The survey shows how important it is to have support from friends, family, and communities when dealing with stress. People who feel supported by others tend to have less stress. About 75% of the participants said social support helps them feel better and improves their mental health. Yet stress gets in the way of individuals bettering their communities—about 46% of adults say their day-to-day stress distracts them from acting to create change where they live. 

The survey also found that doing things like exercising, practicing mindfulness, or enjoying hobbies can help manage stress. About 80% of people said using these coping strategies has proven to be helpful to their wellbeing. 


The APA Stress in America survey offers important insights into stress across the US. Understanding these trends can help policymakers, healthcare providers, and communities in creating strategies and support systems for improving stress management, boosting mental health, and building resilience amidst ongoing challenges. 


Learn more about APA's Stress in America results.

Mental health awareness month (1).png

Mental Health Awareness Month takes place each May to promote awareness about the critical role mental health plays in overall health and well-being. 

Throughout this month, PAR will be sharing information on the state of mental health as well as resources you can share to support individuals and communities who may be in need of mental health information and support. 

Mental Health Awareness Month seeks to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. Please join us in playing a crucial role in promoting awareness and taking action to improve the mental health of our communities. 

History of Mental Health Awareness Month 

Mental Health Awareness Month began in the United States in 1949 as Mental Health Week, but expanded to a month-long observance in 1980. 

The goal of Mental Health Awareness Month is to raise awareness about mental health and wellness, reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, and promote greater access to mental health services and resources. 

Why is Mental Health Awareness Month important? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 adults in the U. S. are living with a mental illness. And despite how common mental health concerns may be, discrimination and stigma are still cited as being significant barriers to treatment and recovery, meaning many people fail to receive the support and care they need. 

Why is it important to talk about mental health? 

Mental Health Awareness Month provides an opportunity to fight stigma and break down misunderstandings about mental health by raising awareness. It also helps people know about resources available in their communities. By speaking openly about mental health, we can encourage people to seek support, normalize the conversation around mental health, and help provide access to much-needed services. 

What can mental health professionals do to get involved? 

Mental health professionals play an important role in promoting mental health awareness. Here are a few things you can do during Mental Health Awareness Month: 

1) Use your platform and expertise to educate others about mental health and wellness. Share information about Mental Health Awareness Month on social media and within your professional networks. 

2) Connect with local organizations and community groups to promote mental health awareness. Offer to speak at events or host workshops on mental health and wellness. Collaborate with other mental health professionals and organizations to create events and initiatives that promote mental health awareness and reduce stigma. 

3) Promote advocacy efforts that resonate with you. Contact your elected officials to express your support for mental health legislation and advocate for increased funding for mental health services and research. 


Throughout the month, PAR will be providing education and resources that will help clinicians as well as those you serve. Come back each week to continue the conversation!




According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the United States are rising—with about 1 in 36 children and 1 in 45 adults being diagnosed with ASD. As more individuals navigate their world with autism, it’s important that true acceptance—not simply awareness—is at the forefront of the conversation not just during Autism Acceptance Month, but throughout the year. 

The following are three examples of how people, communities, and companies are promoting greater acceptance of individuals with ASD. 


Training first responders 

One in every 5 individuals with autism will interact with a police officer before they turn 21 years old. Adequately training emergency personnel to work with neurodiverse individuals is essential to creating protocols in a way that best support the needs of a person with autism. 

Recent research from Australia demonstrates that many individuals with autism report negative experiences with law enforcement as well as limited understanding of the events surrounding those experiences. 

The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office in Virginia began a program last April to help its deputies to better interact with people who have autism. In addition to training their staff on ASD awareness, the department provides decals to drivers as well as a form they can fill out to inform first responders that someone in the house may have autism. This has led to more positive interactions and better understanding in the community. 

Fighting misinformation online 

Although more people are turning to social media for information on ASD, new research out of Drexel University delves into the accuracy of that information. Researchers found that 41% of the autism content found on Tik Tok was inaccurate. Moreover, there was no significant difference in engagement between accurate and inaccurate or overgeneralized videos, meaning misinformation and false content is being consumed and spread widely. 

It’s important for providers and professionals to be aware of the autism-related content that is available and understand the amount of misinformation to better engage with people who may be getting much of their content from social media. By better understanding the questions that people are asking that lead them to Tik Tok for answers, clinicians can learn what information is needed and provide knowledgeable and research-based answers. 

Creating autism-friendly workplaces 

Companies are realizing the importance of creating spaces that are designed with individuals with autism in mind. Individuals with neurodiversity are important parts of the workforce and many organizations are realizing how critical it is to design office spaces that are sensory friendly. This may mean avoiding open-concept or cubicle setups or creating calm, quiet areas where employees can go when they feel overstimulated. Simple swaps—like using lamps instead of fluorescent lighting—are being made in many offices to create a more autism-friendly environment. 


PAR understands how important early intervention and identification are when it comes to an ASD diagnosis. Learn more about the PDD Behavior Inventory™ (PDDBI™) family of products and how it can help screen, diagnose, monitor, and intervene throughout the life span. 


Visit PAR Training for on-demand autism assessment information 

Looking for training on autism assessments? PAR Training offers on-demand webinars and interactive courses on your schedule. Browse our library of autism content, including:  


Learning is essential for human development. From kindergarten through college, students must learn and remember an incredible amount of knowledge and skills. Although learning extends beyond the school years, the amount and intensity of learning that children, adolescents, and young adults are exposed is never equaled later in life. Learning is critical to development. 

Yet many children struggle with learning and memory problems. This can be a concern when a child is referred for an assessment of learning problems. Cognitive difficulties can frequently be found in children diagnosed with: 

  • specific language impairment; 
  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD); 
  • learning disabilities; 
  • cognitive or intellectual disability; and/or 
  • neurological and medical disorders affecting brain development or function.

Despite the importance of memory and learning, many clinicians use only IQ and achievement tests to determine the causes of learning problems. Although many IQ tests address working memory, working memory focuses on briefly stored information. Very few IQ tests are designed to address longer-term retention, which is a critical component to classroom learning and academic success. 


What can be done to address memory concerns in students? 

Students who are not able to convert information from their working memory into long-term storage may be unable to learn in school and can have issues beyond the classroom— socially, occupationally, and behaviorally. 

Pairing a memory test with achievement and IQ tests can help clinicians make more accurate diagnoses and create better recommendations and interventions. Memory assessment also can help to differentiate between conditions that are associated with memory problems (e.g., language impairment, learning disability, ASD) and those that are related to other domains, such as sustained attention or working memory (e.g., ADHD). 

Memory testing also helps identify individual cognitive profiles in conditions where memory problems may coexist with other cognitive problems, such as in developmental disorders, or with neurological disorders such as traumatic brain injury. 

Moreover, by identifying each child’s unique profile of learning strengths and weaknesses, memory assessment provides critical pathways for establishing compensatory strategies and creating appropriate accommodations in the classroom and at home. For example, by determining if a child is a better visual or verbal learner, clinicians obtain valuable information on strengths and weaknesses in that child’s learning. 


Rethinking the role of memory 

Though people tend to think about memory in relation to its ability for encoding and recollection, ultimately, its role is to help individuals to accurately predict future events and make sound decisions for the future based on stored knowledge. When you think about memory using this perspective, assessing a child’s current capacity for learning provides a way to measure future capacity for school and work performance. It is also an important way to identify areas where a student may benefit from remediation and support. 


How to choose the best test of memory for your school-age clients 

If you are considering adding a memory test to your battery, here are some things to consider. 

A good memory test should: 

(1) be able to assess a wide range of examinees referred for learning and academic problems, addressing the needs of school-aged children through young adults; 

(2) be appropriate for use with both healthy examinees who may have minor learning delays as well as for those with multiple neurological and medical problems; 

(3) offer portability and convenience for different settings; 

(4) be suitable for both brief screenings and comprehensive psychoeducational and neuropsychological assessment; 

(5) captivate the attention of distractible or very young examinees; 

(6) offer relevancy to the daily lives of the children and young adults; 

(7) include results that lead to recommendations across both home and school environments; 

(8) accurately identify examinees whose low scores are due to behavioral, motivational, or emotional problems; and 

(9) be usable with children who have motor or other impairments unrelated to memory. 


A good test of memory can do all these things and more. Thinking about adding a memory test to your battery? Learn more about the Child and Adolescent Memory Profile (ChAMP).


Will you be heading to New Orleans for the 2024 American Counseling Association (ACA) Annual Conference? PAR will be exhibiting there for the first time ever. Be sure to stop by the booth and catch up with our clinical assessment advisors who can help personalize your assessment experience. 

Whether you are looking for insight into the latest tests, learning more about taking your assessment process online, or seeking training opportunities, Melissa Milanak, PhD, and Sadiqa Cash, PhD, will be on site and are looking to connect with you in New Orleans. 

While you are there, be sure to ask them about: 

  • Creating a customized assessment battery for your specific needs 
  • Training and research discounts you may be eligible for 
  • Free resources that can deepen your testing knowledge 
  • Other ways PAR can help you address pressing issues in your field

We are so excited to see you at ACA 2024—be sure to stop by the booth to learn how PAR can help you. 

Learn more about the ACA Conference. Find out more about what PAR Healthcare can do to serve your assessment needs.




With March being Women’s History Month, PAR is proud to spotlight female leaders within our organization. Throughout the month, we will share inspiring stories to recognize and celebrate the remarkable women who contribute to the success of PAR. 

Each of these profiles will explore the unique experiences and perspectives of our women leaders, shedding light on their paths to success. We will explore the challenges they've overcome, the lessons they've learned, and the impact they've had on our organization. 

This week, we are proud to present Jenny Greene. Jenny is PAR’s digital assessment product owner. 

Share a brief overview of your professional journey and how you arrived at your current role. 

I started out working part-time at PAR as an intern while I completed my master’s degree. It was truly surprising to me that such a place even existed, as even though I had completed my bachelor’s in psychology, I had never really thought much about test development. In fact, though tests and measures was offered as an undergraduate elective, I was told to take experimental design instead because I planned to go to grad school. 

After I completed my master’s degree, a full-time research assistant position opened up and I was excited to take on a new role at an organization I already enjoyed working for so much. As a research assistant, I worked with project directors on numerous products and with increasing responsibility and began conducting more and more of the analyses to support the products, such as norms, reliability, and validity studies. During that time, I completed my PhD in measurement and evaluation at the University of South Florida and developed and validated a measure of attitudes toward mental health services as part of my dissertation. 

The combination of work experience and my degree set me up for future success in test development at PAR. In 2013, PAR launched PARiConnect, our online assessment platform. Over time, I gradually took on more work on the digital side of things, ensuring accurate translation of our many print products onto PARiConnect. I grew to love this work and as PAR transitioned to agile development, I went on to serve as digital assessment product owner. 

In this role, I am responsible for requirements elicitation/development for digital assessment products. I work directly with our customers to ensure that we are creating products that are clinically useful and delight our customers. I work with a talented group of content project directors, developers, quality assurance testers, and UX/UI designers to continually add new assessments to PARiConnect, including novel and innovative new tests and features. 

Who has been the most significant inspiration in your career? 

Melissa Messer, PAR’s chief product officer, has had the most influence on me. We worked together closely for years as I served as her research assistant on many products. She taught me to think critically about product development, both from a psychometric standpoint but also about the clinical utility of the product. 

She is a great leader whose passion and vision is inspiring to others. 

What advice do you have for women aspiring to leadership roles? 

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Ask for what you want, such as the opportunity to work on a new project that will challenge you a bit beyond your current capabilities. The worst that can happen is they say no. 

Be curious and try new things and processes. This will enable you and your team to have continual, incremental improvement. 

Assume the best in people and assume good intentions. People will rise to the occasion if you show you believe in them. 

When something goes wrong or a miscommunication happens, I like to think about how I contributed to a given situation and how I could improve it next time. 

How do you balance your professional and personal life? 

I practice being able to “turn off” work at the end of the day. It will still be there when I come back the next day. 

I spend a lot of time cooking healthy meals and working out. I work to prioritize my sleep as well. I find that if I am healthy and well-rested, everything else in my life is so much easier. 

Live in alignment with your values and make sure you make time for the things you value doing/being. Everyone’s “perfect life” looks different, so try not to compare yourself to others. 


Catch up on previous profiles of Kristin Greco, Melissa Messer, Jaleesa Hardy, and Brooke Maynard.


With March being Women’s History Month, PAR is proud to spotlight female leaders within our organization. Throughout the month, we will share inspiring stories to recognize and celebrate the remarkable women who contribute to the success of PAR. 

Each of these profiles will explore the unique experiences and perspectives of our women leaders, shedding light on their paths to success. We will explore the challenges they've overcome, the lessons they've learned, and the impact they've had on our organization. 

This week, we are proud to present Brooke Maynard. Brooke is the vice president of marketing at PAR. 

Who has been the most significant inspiration in your career? 

Bowing to the cliché of parental inspiration, I would have to tap my mother, Grace Treadway, as the role model who inculcated those qualities that I have drawn on for the past 20 years of my adult life. Majoring in chemistry in the 1960s, a predominantly male field in that era, opening an environmental laboratory that endured for almost two decades, obtaining licensing in flying and scuba diving, all while balancing the business/family/home relationships that can be so challenging, gave me the foundation for personal growth and satisfaction. 

How did this person impact your leadership style and approach? 

The path to business success that she embodied was never at the expense of fairness or integrity. Business acumen was never a strategy to circumvent dedication and perseverance. Honesty and open communication with employees, clients, and competitors made up the blueprint of her business and personal philosophy. Coupled with her ability to nurture healthy family dynamics, I have incorporated these values into my own personal and business relationships, and to her, I say thank you. 

Share a significant challenge you faced in your career and how you overcame it. 

With the Great Recession came large layoffs and many Americans were impacted, myself included. The organization I worked for at the time experienced a significant decrease in their annual funding and because of the shortfall, many us found ourselves suddenly unemployed. 

What complicated my specific situation was that I was seven months pregnant. Even the most progressive employers were unlikely to hire me. What might have initiated a longer-than-normal maternity gap, I immediately made a plan and set in motion the opportunities that would give me valuable professional and personal development. I began studying for my APR (Accreditation in Public Relations) and succeeded in receiving my APR certification on my due date. 

Shortly after the birth of my second child, I leveraged my relationships within the industry to open doors to several lucrative marketing consulting roles throughout the state of Florida, and yes, the baby came with me. These projects gave me the flexibility to focus on my family but also the ability to stay relevant and broaden my scope as a communications and marketing professional. 

Looking back on this period in my life taught me many things. Chief among them was an education in humility. I understood and empathized with others who were unemployed and realized that it’s easy to let life’s unexpected challenges derail you. 

Most importantly, I learned that if you find yourself underwater, start swimming. 

Do you have an inspiring quote, song, or mantra that you use to remind yourself that you can get through anything? 

"One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in, and where you want to go." - Sheila Murray Bethel 

How has resilience played a role in your career journey? 

Resilience in the workplace is necessary throughout our career and represents one’s ability to thrive under change. While change can be difficult at times, I’ve always welcomed it as a way to try new endeavors, explore new ways of thinking, or change course. 

A career in marketing means constant change as technology and the competition are ever evolving. If you’re not changing, then you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing your products, business can stagnate. 

Maintaining a positive and open mindset through times of change has armed me against feelings of fear that change often brings with it. Through this methodology around resilience, I’ve been able to find profound professional satisfaction by facing change head on and solving critical problems with a successful outcome. 

What advice do you have for women aspiring to leadership roles? 

Any woman seeking a leadership position needs to know they don’t have to change who they are to achieve it. The values and characteristics they have developed and are part of their personal or professional ethos can be very valuable leadership assets to an organization. Take yourself seriously but bring fun to your work. Most importantly, don’t let others allow you to second guess your dreams or become discouraged when your aspirations aren’t immediately achieved. 

How do you balance your professional and personal life? 

A professional working woman with leadership aspirations and also being a mother of three has often collided. The pull from the corporate world and the guilt that I sometimes felt not being able to be fully present at home often plagued me earlier in my career. The late hours and early mornings coupled with raising three young children presented unique challenges as I navigated the responsibilities I had to my employer and also to my kids. 

As I got older, I realized that my values and boundaries needed to be met and I was more vocal with organizations that I worked with around these personal core values. Stating them early in any interview process and reiterating them throughout my tenure has allowed me to maintain a positive work–life balance that allows me to bring my best self to work each day and be the parent and role model I aspire to be at home. 

What passions or activities bring you joy and rejuvenate you outside of work? 

My family will be and always has been my first priority. I get immense pleasure and pride watching my children take on new adventures and grow into positive and contributing members of their schools, competitive sport teams, and friend groups. I also enjoy traveling and experiencing new perspectives and landscapes with my family and friends. 

As a self-proclaimed amateur chef, I enjoy cooking and hosting parties at our home. The nostalgia I feel when making a treasured recipe handed down from my mother or grandmother is a way I show love to those that gather at my table. 

An interesting hobby is that I collect $2 dollar bills and have over 300 of them! 


Catch up on previous profiles of Kristin Greco, Melissa Messer, and Jaleesa Hardy.


With March being Women’s History Month, PAR is proud to spotlight female leaders within our organization. Throughout the month, we will share inspiring stories to recognize and celebrate the remarkable women who contribute to the success of PAR. 

Each of these profiles will explore the unique experiences and perspectives of our women leaders, shedding light on their paths to success. We will explore the challenges they've overcome, the lessons they've learned, and the impact they've had on our organization. 

This week, we are proud to present Jaleesa Hardy. Jaleesa is a business development specialist in PAR’s sales department. 

Share a brief overview of your professional journey and how you arrived at your current role. 

I started my professional career with hopes of landing a role with the Atlanta Falcons, (hence the master’s in sports administration) but that faded quickly during my quick stint interning in their Community Relations Department. It was fun, but I was NOT ready for those hours nor extensive travel. Soon after I found myself at small healthcare IT company where I started as an administrative assistant then moved to business development and soon after became the BD manager. I spent a total of 5 years there before heading into legal marketing/business development and worked at two different firms for a total of 6 years, where I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about myself! 

Who has been the most significant inspiration in your career? How did this person impact your leadership style and approach? 

I have two, and they both came from Smith, Gambrell and Russell, LLP. My mentor, Lee Watts, Chief Marketing Officer, who was also my manager at the firm, and the second was an attorney, Justice Leah Ward Sears, the first African-American female chief justice of a state Supreme Court in the United States. 

They both taught me to face challenges head on, understanding that most misunderstands come from a lack of communication and can typically be solved with a simple conversation. They’ve also taught me the importance of making a decision and standing on it, whether right or wrong…being confident in your decision requires accountability. 

Share a significant challenge you faced in your career and how you overcame it. 

I learned quickly that friends and business don’t mix (sometimes). While at the healthcare IT firm, my manager valued my opinion and judgment and he hired two of my friends. One friend excelled and moved up in the company and, well, the other did not! 

After I was promoted to business development manager, I managed them both. The friend who didn’t do so great thought that just because we’re friends she no longer had to work until she felt like it. That was the first time I had to put on my big girl undies on and put feelings to the side. It didn’t feel good. I’m usually the one who encourages those around me, but in this instance, it was going! Not to mention I was only 25, this was my first “real” job and my first managerial role as well. 

After several attempts of retraining, conversations about accountability, and warnings of reprimanding, I was left with no choice but to do what was required of me in the role I held, which was letting her go. I then understood relieving one of their duties to some may look like a step back, but inevitably holding on can only deter you from your true purpose. I ended up losing a “friend” but gained self-awareness and self-confidence and learned everything happens for a reason! 

How do you balance your professional and personal life? 

It’s something I’m still learning to do daily. With a husband, two small boys, work, and family obligations…it seems like there’s never enough time in day. But I’ve learned to be comfortable with every day looking different, some days it’s just need extra rest, somedays I get up extra early to workout/meditate/yoga, some days it’s playing outside with my boys or book club with my girlfriends, and other days it’s sitting in the sun for 10 minutes of complete silence. 

What passions or activities bring you joy and rejuvenate you outside of work? 

I love everything about personal finance and teaching the youth about personal finance, which is why a friend and I started ACTS Global, Inc. I view it as an essential skill because it touches every aspect of our lives. Many people don’t have the tools nor grow up learning about finances, but if they did, it could single-handedly change the trajectory of their lives and families. 


Catch up on previous profiles of Kristin Greco and Melissa Messer.